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In Pursuit of the Green Fairy

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The Absinthe Trail runs from Pontarlier, France to the Val-de-Travers in neighboring Switzerland, where I live in Canton Neuchatel. It meanders through the heart of the region of the world that gave birth to absinthe and is the locale where the wormwood plant thrives, one of the main ingredients of the magical potion. Wormwood is blended with other herbs such as lemon balm, hyssop, fennel, and anise, to name a few, then distilled into a spirit.

Called the drink of the Green Fairy, absinthe was very popular in the 1800’s but was banned in the early 1900’s due to the perceived hallucinogenic and toxic effects of the drink. Turns out that was pretty much a farce, and one wonders if the vintners had a hand in tarnishing its image since it was so widely enjoyed, competing with their wines.

Absinthe’s reputation was restored in 2005 when it was made legal, once again, in its birthplace and the Absinthe Trail was born. It connects the small villages where the spirit is distilled in Switzerland and Franche-Comte. Recently I went in search of the Green Fairy in Motiers, Switzerland, looking specifically for the Fontaine á Louis, a spring in the forest near the beginning of the Poëta-Raisse Gorges.

During the many years of the spirit’s ban, bottles of the outlawed drink would be hidden near springs in the woods where the locals could stop for a glass and use the cold water of the spring as a necessary ingredient to cloud the absinthe in opal-colored spirals … part of the ritual of the drink.

True to form, I found a hollowed out log serving as a water trough, the stream from the fontaine trickling into the trough from a spigot. In a miniature house sitting on a stump was a bottle of the mystical liquid and small plastic glasses. A note written in French gave a phone number to call if the bottle was empty. A splash of the spirit in a glass, a quick run under the spigot, and the Green Fairy was mine!

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